The Environmental Impact of Pomegranates: From Farm to Table

The Environmental Impact of Pomegranates: From Farm to Table

By
Teresa Mersereau

Read Time:19 Minutes

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Pomegranates are a booming global business, valued at around $24 billion. They are also a great source of antioxidants, fiber, and several vitamins. They are especially popular as juices. But pomegranates can have a negative environmental impact. There are many components of the pomegranate industry that cause serious damage to the environment. So we had to ask: What is the environmental impact of pomegranates?

Pomegranates have a very negative environmental impact. They use high amounts of pesticides, nitrogen fertilizers, and irrigation. They also occasionally use plastic packaging and have a low land yield.

In this article, we will examine the environmental impact of pomegranates from several different angles. We will go through the life-cycle of pomegranates, detailing their impact on the environment from growth to distribution to your plate to waste management. We will then compare the environmental impact of pomegranates to that of other fruits. And, finally, we’ll share some tips with you on how you can reduce your own environmental impact and offset your own carbon emissions – both for your personal life and pomegranate-related.

Here’s How We Assessed the Environmental Impact of Pomegranates

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is one of the ways we measure the potential environmental effects of our actions, like the consumption of pomegranates. It is a holistic assessment based on the environmental changes associated with our consumption. Those are changes in our environment that can have adverse effects on the air, land, water, fish, and wildlife or the inhabitants of the ecosystem.

“Environmental Impact: the effect that the activities of people and businesses have on the environment”

Cambridge Dictionary

Basically, all goods and services you buy – including pomegranates – leave an impact on our environment. When it comes to food in general, and pomegranates in specific, the following are key factors:

To understand the overall environmental impact of pomegranates, we must assess each of their key factors. This Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a tool originally developed to identify the environmental impacts of a project prior to decision-making and also helps us to evaluate the environmental impacts of pomegranates, from farm to table.

Here’s the Overall Environmental Impact of Pomegranates

Pomegranates have a very negative environmental impact. The main factors that contribute to this are their high pesticide use, irrigation requirements, use of nitrogen fertilizers, low land yield, and occasional use of plastic packaging. Their environmental impact is high compared to other fruits. 

There are some positives when it comes to the environmental impact of pomegranates. For example, they are mainly grown domestically in the US, which reduces travel emissions. Whole pomegranates also typically don’t use plastic packaging. However, the majority of the pomegranate production process has a highly negative environmental impact. 

So, let’s have a look at the environmental impact of each key factor of pomegranates!

Key Assessment FactorsEnvironmental Impact
Land requirements for pomegranatesPomegranates’ land requirements are high. They also use harmful agricultural techniques like multiple crop sequencing and monoculture farming, which negatively affect the environment. 
Water footprint of pomegranatesPomegranates have a moderate water requirement of 50 inches of water per year. However, because they don’t get enough rainfall where they are grown, they require significant amounts of irrigation. 
Agrochemical usage for pomegranatesPomegranates’ agrochemical use is very high. Their particular use of harmful nitrogen fertilizer means their environmental impact is very negative at this stage. 
Carbon footprint of pomegranatesPomegranates have a moderately high carbon footprint of 0.39kg (0.87lb) of CO2e per pound of pomegranates. This is mainly because of their high need for growth resources, pesticide use, refrigerated transportation, and low composting rates. 
Waste generation of pomegranatesPomegranate waste generation is high, depending on whether pomegranates are bought whole or shelled. Both types require either cardboard or plastic packaging so their waste disposal has a fairly negative environmental impact. 

These are the overall summaries, but there is a lot more to the story. In the next few sections, we will dive deeper into each stage to illustrate to you all the important aspects of pomegranates’ environmental impact.

What Are the Land Requirements for Pomegranates

Pomegranates’ land requirements are high. They also use harmful agricultural techniques like multiple crop sequencing and monoculture farming, which negatively affect the environment. 

Illustration of global land use for food production
Our World in Data: Global land use for food production

Growing pomegranates has a lot of variables that contribute to their environmental impact. The amount of land they use, the way in which they grow, and the amount of time they take to grow will all contribute to their environmental impact.

How do the land requirements of pomegranates impact their environmental footprint?

  • What is the land usage of pomegranates: Pomegranates yield around 8 tons per hectare. This is one of the lowest land yields among fruits. For example, pears can yield 40-50 tons per hectare, and pineapples can yield up to 100 tons per hectare. Therefore, each pound of pomegranates will take up significantly more space than other fruits. 
  • Where and how are pomegranates grown: Pomegranates are mainly grown in the Mediterranean and Middle East, as well as Southeast Asia. Pomegranates grow on trees in orchards which sequester carbon. This can help them to offset some of their emissions and thus lessen their environmental impact. However, their ability to sequester carbon only lasts the first five years of growth. Once they reach maximum producing capacity, their carbon sequestering abilities tend to plateau. Therefore, though they do sequester some carbon early in life, it is not enough to lessen their environmental impact. 
  • How does the growing of pomegranates affect soil fertility and erosion: The particular method of farming that pomegranate farms often use is called multiple crop sequencing. This farming technique has been found to have negative effects on soil fertility, depleting nutrients. Pomegranates are also mainly grown in monocultures. Monocultures are terrible for biodiversity as they limit pollination, soil microbes, and other wildlife. Therefore, between multiple crop sequence growing and monoculture farming, pomegranates can have a very negative effect on soil. 
  • How does the pomegranates industry affect the loss of habitable land: Pomegranates have a very low land yield, so they will require more land to grow than other fruits. However, pomegranates are currently less popular than other fruits, producing 1.5 million tons annually, although their popularity is rising. In comparison, apples and oranges are evaluated at 76 million and 50 million tons per year, respectively. Therefore, while pomegranates are less efficient, their lower production rates mean they take up less space in the world than more popular fruits. 
  • How does the pomegranates industry affect wildlife and biodiversity: Monoculture farming is very harmful to wildlife and biodiversity. This is mainly because monocultures produce a very short flowering season, as opposed to the more balanced flowering season of polycultures. As a result, pollinators are starving for most of the year, which affects the whole food chain. 

In short, pomegranate farming takes part in some damaging practices, such as monocultures and multiple crop sequencing. This combined with their low land yield, means they have a significantly negative environmental impact at this stage. 

What Is the Water Footprint of Pomegranates

Pomegranates have a moderate water requirement of 50 inches of water per year. However, because they don’t get enough rainfall in their area, they require significant amounts of irrigation. 

Water usage is one of the most important factors in the environmental impact of a fruit. The amount of water used, as well as the way they affect the water sources around them, are all major contributing factors. Here, we will look at these different angles to pomegranates’ water impact.

How does the water footprint of pomegranates impact their environmental footprint?

In short, pomegranates are very demanding on water resources and pollute the waterways significantly through their use of irrigation and pesticides. 

What Is the Agrochemical Usage for Pomegranates

Pomegranates’ agrochemical use is very high. Their particular use of the harmful nitrogen fertilizer means their environmental impact is very negative at this stage. 

Pesticides and fertilizers are agrochemicals that can have a significant impact on the environment. They both require resources to create as well as have effects on the life around them. Here, we will look at how pomegranates’ pesticide and fertilizer rates affect their environmental impact.

How does the agrochemical usage of pomegranates impact their environmental footprint?

In short, pomegranates’ heavy use of pesticides and nitrogen fertilizer means that it causes a whole slew of damages to waterways, wildlife, soil, and even human health. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Pomegranates

Pomegranates have a moderately high carbon footprint of 0.39kg (0.87lb) of CO2e per pound of pomegranates. This is mainly because of their high need for growth resources, pesticide use, refrigerated transportation, and low composting rates. 

Illustration of global greenhouse gas emissions from food production
Our World in Data: Global greenhouse gas emissions from food production

Carbon footprint is one aspect of the overall environmental impact of a fruit. It essentially measures how much carbon or other greenhouse gasses the production of pomegranates emits into the atmosphere. Emissions from product manufacturing, irrigation, transportation fuel, and landfills all add up to create the overall carbon footprint of a fruit. Let’s see how the carbon footprint of pomegranates breaks down and contributes to their environmental impact.

How does the carbon footprint of pomegranates impact their environmental footprint?

In short, pomegranates have a fairly high carbon footprint, mainly due to the high resources needed during their growing period. 

Related: Check out our full article on “What Is the Carbon Footprint of Pomegranates? A Life-Cycle Analysis” to find out all about the carbon footprint of pomegranates and how each stage of their life-cycle contributes to it (plus, what you can do to reduce your carbon footprint when shopping for pomegranates).

What Is the Waste Generation of Pomegranates

Pomegranate waste generation is high, depending on whether pomegranates are bought whole or shelled. Both types require either cardboard or plastic packaging so their waste disposal has a fairly negative environmental impact. 

When fruit waste, either packaging or organic materials, is disposed of, it can have a major impact on the environment. Whether it’s damaging wildlife, getting into oceans, emitting methane, or dissolving into microplastics that contaminate groundwater, all these materials have their part to play. In this section, we will look at how pomegranates’ waste affects the environment.

How does the waste generation of pomegranates impact their environmental footprint?

In short, pomegranate packaging and food waste is a major contributor to their negative environmental impact. This is mainly because of low composting rates and low plastic recycling rates. 

What Have Been Historical Environmental Issues Connected to the Pomegranate Industry

The pomegranate industry has historically had a very negative impact on the environment. This has occurred through increasing land use, pesticides, and nitrogen fertilizers. 

All fruits have had a complex road toward global distribution. They originate in one part of the world and often travel far to end up in your local supermarket. From farm to table, some of our favorite fruits have racked up some serious environmental damage along the way. Whether it’s deforestation to meet demand, water pollution, or disruption of wildlife, most fruits have left a path of destruction. Let’s see how pomegranates have fared throughout history. 

What have been the key environmental issues of the pomegranates industry?

In short, pomegranates’ continued use of nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides, as well as their ever-increasing production, has caused significant environmental damage, especially in California. 

What Is the Overall Environmental Impact of Food and Agriculture

Food production in general has a high environmental impact. Everything from the amount of land used to the energy involved in irrigation to its effect on plant and animal biodiversity can be a factor in this. In the chart below, you can see how food production is one of the biggest influences on these areas of the environment. 

Illustration of the environmental impacts of food and agriculture
Our World in Data: The environmental impacts of food and agriculture

Agriculture alone accounts for over a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, while using half of the world’s habitable land and 70% of the global freshwater withdrawals. Agriculture also causes 78% of the global ocean and freshwater pollution

Livestock accounts for the vast majority of non-human mammal and bird biomass. Mammal livestock outweighs wild mammals by a factor of 15-to-1, and poultry livestock outweighs wild birds by a factor of more than 3-to-1.

These statistics highlight the need for sustainable and responsible practices in food production to reduce its impact on the environment. And the need for us to shift toward more environmentally-friendly foods.

How Can You Reduce Your Environmental Impact and Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

There are a few things you can do to mitigate some of the negative environmental effects of consuming pomegranates, while still enjoying them. You can also consider offsetting your personal and pomegranate-related carbon emissions, which work to remove carbon emissions elsewhere that are then attributed to you. Here, we will walk you through how to accomplish both of these things.

How Can You Reduce Your Environmental Impact When Shopping for Pomegranates

In this section, we give you a short list of ways you can reduce the negative environmental effects of pomegranates, based on those parts of the life-cycle of pomegranates that would otherwise most negatively impact the environment:

  1. Buy organic pomegranates: Pesticides are some of the biggest contributors to pomegranates’ environmental damages. Organic farms make the commitment to avoid using chemicals, including pesticides. Thus, making the effort to buy organic pomegranates will help you to reduce some of the more negative aspects of pesticides’ environmental impact. 
  2. Compost your pomegranate waste: Pomegranate peels ending up in landfills can cause environmental havoc. If you make the effort to compost your pomegranate peels then you will be greatly reducing the space they take up in landfills, as well as the methane emitted from them. If you can’t compost through your city’s waste management system, then you can consider creating your own compost!
  3. Recycle any boxes or plastic: If your pomegranates come in a cardboard box, or if you buy shelled pomegranates in a plastic container, then you should try your best to recycle them. By doing this, you will be keeping them out of the landfills, and in plastics’ case, prevent the pollution caused by microplastics. 

Following some of these methods can really help you to cut down on your environmental impact of eating pomegranates. None of these will completely eradicate these negative impacts, since there are always effects that may be outside of your control. But some reduction is always better than nothing!

Which Organizations Can You Support to Help Alleviate Your Environmental Impact

While pomegranates can cause a wide range of environmental damage, there are also some organizations that help you reduce parts of your impact that would otherwise be outside of your control. These organizations are working hard to prevent and reverse damage to the environment caused by industries like pomegranate agriculture.

In the table below are some of the best environmental charities that work in the areas where pomegranates production has affected the environment – and beyond:

Overall environmental impactBest charities that fight to protect our environment
Land requirementsBest charities for reforestation
Best wildlife conservation charities
Best charities for protecting the Amazon rainforest
Best charities that protect our national parks
Water footprintBest charities that fight for clean water
Best charities that help conserve our rivers
Best charities to save our oceans
Agrochemical usageBest charities that help farmers
Best charities for helping farm animals
Carbon footprintBest charities for climate change
Best carbon offsets for individuals
Waste generationBest charities that fight to reduce food waste
Best charities that fight to end plastic pollution
Best charities that promote recycling

Though it is helpful to reduce the environmental impact of your personal pomegranate consumption, supporting these organizations takes your positive impact a step further. You will be reaching far beyond your own consumption impacts and helping to build a better world for everyone!

How Can You Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

The carbon footprint is a key part of your environmental impact. And it is one of the ways we measure the effects of our human-induced global climate change. Yes, even from eating pomegranates!

“Carbon footprint: the amount of greenhouse gasses and specifically carbon dioxide emitted by something (such as a person’s activities or a product’s manufacture and transport) during a given period”

Merriam Webster

Basically, it is the amount of carbon emitted by you as an individual or an organization providing you with goods and services – including pomegranates:

Illustration of carbon emissions from food
Our World in Data: Emissions from food alone would take us past 1.5°C or 2°C this century

Carbon offsets are reductions in carbon emissions that are used to compensate for carbon emissions occurring elsewhere – for example for the carbon emissions that are associated with pomegranates. They are measured in tons of CO2 equivalents and are bought and sold through international brokers, online retailers, and trading platforms on what is known as the global carbon offset market. 

“Carbon Offset: a way for a company or person to reduce the level of carbon dioxide for which they are responsible by paying money to a company that works to reduce the total amount produced in the world, for example by planting trees”

Oxford Dictionary

In terms of pomegranates – and indeed all food types – there will always be a carbon footprint, because of the resources it takes to get your food from farms to the place where you’ll eventually eat them. And while there are ways to reduce your carbon footprint when shopping for pomegranates, carbon offsets would be a way to reduce your CO2e emissions all the way down to net zero (or even to become climate positive).

However, when you purchase carbon offsets, it’s important that they actually make a difference in offsetting (aka reducing) total carbon emissions. To achieve that, the following are key criteria:

  • Carbon offset projects have to be effective (different projects have different effectiveness rates)
  • Carbon offset projects have to be additional
  • Carbon offset projects have to be permanent
  • The claims from carbon offset projects have to be verifiable

To find the best carbon offsets for you personally, check out our full guide on the best carbon offsets for individuals, where you’ll also learn more about how these carbon offset projects work, what their respective offsetting costs are, and what your best way would be to offset your own carbon emissions.

Related: Check out our full guide on “What Are the Best Carbon Offsets for Individuals: Complete 2024 List” to find the best carbon offset providers for your personal carbon emissions and those associated to, e.g., eating pomegranates.

Final Thoughts

Pomegranates have a long way to go before they can have a positive environmental impact. They require so much irrigation, use copious amounts of pesticides, and are fertilized using one of the most harmful chemicals to the environment. However, by trying your best to reduce aspects of your pomegranate consumption, and supporting charities that aim to combat some of the more damaging aspects of pomegranate agriculture!

Stay impactful,

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